The best sleeping positions for your neck and spine

Sleep | Posture

When you think about your posture, you probably immediately think of your sitting and standing posture. But what about the way you sleep? We spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping, so our sleep posture is incredibly important for our overall wellness. Poor sleep posture can result in a number of problems including back and neck pain, headaches, muscle cramping, poor circulation, digestive issues, heartburn, poor circulation, fatigue and more.

When we’re awake, we’re more aware of muscle and joint pain if we hold a certain position for too long. But when we sleep, we can end up getting our bodies into awkward, twisted positions without even noticing the potential strain we’re causing – until we wake up and feel like we’ve been hit by a bus.

If you feel pain or stiffness in your neck, back, hips or joints when you wake up (that you don’t otherwise feel during the day) the way you’re sleeping is possibly a cause. Simple changes to your sleep posture to keep your spine, neck and head in a neutral position, can make a dramatic difference to the quality of your sleep and the way you feel when you wake up. The National Sleep Foundation has ranked1 the most popular sleeping positions according to their overall impact on your health. Here they are:

1) On your back 

While this is not the most popular sleeping position (only 8% of people prefer to sleep this way1) it is considered the best option for your body. It allows you to keep you neck and spine in a neutral position, and evenly distributes your body weight which can help to minimize pressure points.

Make sure your neck is properly supported by a pillow, in neutral alignment (not too high or low). If you’re prone to snoring and sleep apnea, this may not be the ideal sleeping position for you2 and sleeping on your side may be preferable. If you suffer from back pain, try a small pillow or towel under your knees to maintain the natural curve of your spine, and a small rolled pillow under the small of your back for support3.

2) On your side

Sleeping on your side with your legs stretched out, slightly bent at the knee, is the second best sleeping position (and ideal for snorers). By placing a small pillow between your legs, you can better align your spine, hips and pelvis4. When lying on your side you will also need to consider a slightly thinker pillow under your head and neck, to maintain a straight line from your head to your neck and spine.

3) In the fetal position

While this is the most common sleeping position1, it’s not the best. Having your legs bent and curled up toward your chest means your weight isn’t evenly distributed, and your spine isn’t aligned, in a neutral position. This position can easily cause stiffness and pain if you are curled up too tightly1. If you can’t break the habit of sleeping this way, at least try to loosen up your body, extend your legs a bit more and make sure you don’t tuck your chin into your chest. Also try using a pillow between your legs to prevent hip pain.

4) On your stomach 

The key problem with this position is that you have to twist your head to the side to breathe, meaning your neck is twisted all night – which can lead to pain and stiffness not only in your neck, but also in your shoulders and upper back4. This position also puts unnecessary pressure on nerves and joints, like the knees and feet. If you simply can’t break this habit, try to place a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen to remove some of the strain and to better support your spine.

No matter which position you sleep in, the quality of your mattress and pillow is essential to a good night’s rest. The right support makes it easier to keep your head, neck and spine in a neutral position. Look for a mattress that supports your body from head to toe without any gaps, and make sure your turn your mattress around every few months to avoid any indentations forming.

Struggling with neck and back pain? Suspect it might be from the way you’re sleeping? Come in for a consultation to understand the root cause of your condition and benefit from our holistic treatment approach. Contact us here to make a booking.


1. The National Sleep Foundation. The best sleep position for your body. (n.d.).

2. Cleveland Clinic. Back, side or stomach: Which sleep position is best for you? (2016).

3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Slide show: Sleeping positions that reduce back pain.

4. University of Rochester Medical Centre. Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back (n.d.)

Dr. Matt le Roux is a man of many talents: chiropractor, sports scientist and functional medicine practitioner. His science-based approach motivates him to explore the synergy between health and performance that changes the way you move, live, train, think, and eat.

Dr Matt le Roux

Chiropractor, Functional medicine practitioner

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